An overview of the Canadian healthcare system

Canada's health care system, called ‘medicare’, consists of a group of socialised medical plans that are publicly funded by the federal government.

Covered under many of these plans are preventative health care, visits to primary care physicians, and visits to specialists upon recommendation by the primary care physicians. Coverage is available to all Canadian residents, with no requirements for income or medical need.

Much of the health care is administered by the provinces and territories themselves, but they must operate under guidelines set by the federal government. The Canada Health Act adheres to five main standards:

  1. Public Administration – the health plans of the provinces and territories must be administered by public authority on a not-for-profit basis. They are subject to audit.
  2. Comprehensiveness – the health plans must cover all necessary health services including hospitals, physicians and surgical dentists.
  3. Universality – everyone must be entitled to the insured services of the health plans. Registration begins the process of entitlement.
  4. Portability – If a resident moves from one province or territory to another, the resident must remain covered by the province or territory he is leaving if he is required to observe a waiting period in the new area. Those who are travelling will have access to emergency care in other provinces or territories should the need arise.
  5. Accessibility – the health plans in each province and territory must provide for access to the covered health care. The providing physicians, surgeons and surgical dentists must be compensated.

Applying for health coverage

New residents to any province or territory must apply for the health coverage. There is usually a waiting period, but it cannot be extended beyond three months.

There are some provinces (British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario) that require premiums to be paid for the health care coverage, but no one can be denied health care because of financial limitations. Other generally offered services include dental, physical therapy and prescription medications; however, only services listed in the Canada Health Act are required to be provided by the provinces or territories.

Health cards (also known as care cards) are issued by the individual provinces and territories. Visit the website of the provincial or territorial Ministry of Health for the Canadian region in which you reside to register for a health card.


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